In less than three weeks, St. Clair County voters will choose between a long-time associate judge and a solo general practitioner for a six year term as circuit judge.
Belleville attorney Ron Duebbert, a Republican, and Associate Judge Vincent Lopinot, a Democrat, both cite experience, knowledge and integrity as reasons for their election.
Having served 10 years on the associate bench, Lopinot says he has handled cases in almost every division at the Belleville courthouse as well as every other county courthouse in the circuit.
Before being appointed associate judge, Lopinot had a general practice law firm, representing school districts, villages and fire districts. He was also associated with the public defender's office from the time he left law school until he was appointed judge.
He says his opponent is not qualified to be a circuit judge, in part due to low ratings Duebbert received in the Illinois State Bar Association (ISBA) poll of lawyers.
In St. Clair County, the poll was mailed to 618 attorneys and 292 attorneys - or 47 percent of them - returned ballots.
"My opponent got historically low ratings in almost every category, low ratings for impartiality, for legal ability, temperament," Lopinot said. "It appears that his peers who rate all judicial candidates don't think he's qualified to do the job."
Regarding the American Tort Reform Association's designation of St. Clair County as a "judicial hellhole," Lopinot calls the designation inaccurate.
"You have to look into the background of associations who do these ratings," he said. "You must look behind these organizations to see who supports them. As a general rule, I do not think St. Clair County is unfair toward defendants.
"More importantly, who supports them financially? Do they have a certain point of view they want addressed in the court system?"
Lopinot said he is fair and impartial, "regardless of who is coming before this court," he said.
In the ISBA poll, Lopinot received a "recommended" rating. He was rated 95.06 on meeting the requirements for office, 97.11 on integrity, 93.78 on impartiality, 97.51 on legal ability, 97.53 on temperament, 97.51 on court management, 99.58 on health, and 96.65 on sensitivity.
Lopinot contends it is vital that citizens believe the court system is fair and impartial to all citizens.
"If people don't think the courts are fair, then what good are they?" he said. "I think people in our judicial circuit have a lot of faith in the court system."
Regarding social media and its significance in today's elections, Lopinot said the courts are concerned people will try to become a judge's friend on Facebook, if that judge has a case with that person.
"As a judge, people may have other motives for being your friend," Lopinot said.
"I just thought it was best not to have a Facebook page," Lopinot said. His wife and children use Facebook, he said, but he won't start one until he retires.
Duebbert said he plans to offer citizens a "hard-working, ethical choice, free of Democratic party control."
He brings 23 years of experience in civil, criminal and family law.
"I routinely appear in 10 to 15 counties," including the St. Clair County Circuit, Madison, Jersey, McHenry and Mclean, he said.
Duebbert says Lopinot has "not been vetted by the people, but instead, has been chosen by "Democratic kingpins."
"Mr. Lopinot is bringing his father's experience and the Democratic party machine," Duebbert said. "He was appointed to be public defender. He was appointed to associate circuit judge. He did nothing to earn this."
Duebbert said he plans to fairly and accurately apply statutory case law and constitutional case law if elected to the bench.
"For many years, I have been observing that we are in this county, a judicial hellhole," he said. "That's what we have been named."
He criticized the current composition of the court as not being balanced - there are no elected Republicans serving in St. Clair County. Duebbert also said that voters have not been given many choices through the years.
"It is a historical opportunity for the people of this county to have a choice for selection of circuit judge," he said. "In the past, the Democratic machine candidates have run unopposed."
From a conference room in his second floor suite in the Bank of America Building, across from the St. Clair County Courthouse, Duebbert said, "I have proven all I need to prove in private practice and have been very successful."
Duebbert said he uses a personal Facebook page and a campaign Facebook page.
He said he believes citizens can discover something about the candidate by looking at their Facebook page.
He also said social media and signs don't vote.
"People vote," he said, adding, "It's good to see what candidates are doing," he added.
Duebbert criticized the source of Lopinot's campaign funding - from area lawyers.
"My opponent has collected over $100,000 from lawyers," he said. "This issue of donations by lawyers has gotten out of hand.
"I am pledging for a period of three years to recuse myself from cases where a contributor" has contributed to his campaign.
"Lopinot has not taken that pledge."
Duebbert contends that though Lopinot is qualified to be a judge, he has been chosen by the "Democratic party machine."
An ISBA peer review poll rated Duebbert as "not recommended." He scored 37.19 on meeting the requirements for office, 57.76 on integrity, 55.26 on impartiality, 52.59 on legal ability, 54.31 on temperament, 53.70 on court management, 83.93 on health, and 71.05 on sensitivity.
Duebbert called the ISBA poll "a self-report of the most partisan of
"I am not a judge," Duebbert said. "How are they evaluating me as though they were?"
Typically, Republican candidates running in Madison and St. Clair County do not score well in the ISBA poll.
"There are very few Republican lawyers here," Duebbert said. "I am not going to get a Democrat to say I am qualified."
Though Lopinot has raised "huge amounts of money," Duebbert said he hopes voters will see his qualifications and real experience, and he hopes voters will choose independently.
"We will easily overcome that monetary disadvantage," he said.
"I will be independent of Democratic party control. That is what will speak to the voters. Money itself doesn't vote."
He called his opponent, Lopinot, an "apathetic Democratic machine candidate."
Duebbert blames the Democratic Party for St. Clair County's designation as the nation's fifth worst judicial hellhole.
He said he is attempting to get name recognition by attending parades, visiting precinct committee events in five counties, delivering campaign literature door to door and by attending other social events.
"People listened to me, liked me and asked me to speak at events," he said.
One of the changes he hopes to see is an expansion of the drug court in St. Clair County.
"Currently we have a problem with youthful offenders who are in jail and end up entering pleas of guilty and get placed on probation," he said. "Drug court needs to be expanded significantly."
"Our society can ill afford to have so many people committing felonies," he said. "When one is youthful, one makes more mistakes."
According to the Illinois State Board of Elections, from July 1 to Sept. 30, Citizens for Ronald Duebbert reported $4,960 available, while the Committee to Elect Lopinot reported $55,462.50 in the same amount of time.
Duebbert and Lopinot are seeking the seat presently occupied by Circuit Judge Stephen McGlynn.
McGlynn, who is campaigning for a seat on the Fifth District Appellate Court, was appointed to fill the spot Sept. 17, 2010, following the retirement of then Circuit Judge Michael O'Malley, who retired July 30, 2010, to enter the private sector as a personal injury attorney.